Sydney eyes free public transport, 24-hour market and skate ramps to restart CBD

SYDNEY – The pandemic has wreaked havoc in Sydney’s city centre, prompting authorities to consider creative options to attract visitors and workers, including creating car-free zones for outdoor dining and entertainment, by building skate ramps and providing free public transport.

Like other major cities around the world, Sydney’s central business district (CBD) has struggled over the past two years as people worked from home and avoided crowded public spaces. Previously bustling shops, cafes and other retail businesses were forced to close, further dampening the mood in the CBD.

Travel restrictions have also prevented the entry of large numbers of international students, many of whom tend to live and spend time in the city centre. Australia is reopening its borders to all fully vaccinated international travelers from February 21.

The New South Wales government and the City of Sydney have signaled they are ready to transform the city center into what the state’s Commerce Minister, Stuart Ayres, describes as a “global playground open 24 hours a day”.

The state government is eyeing an ambitious new report by the Committee for Sydney, an urban policy think tank, which has presented various options for transforming the city center from a business district into a more attractive place and dynamic that will attract workers and non-workers and encourage them to spend more time there.

The report, A Re-imagined Sydney CBD, developed by think tank and global planning and design firm Arup, offered options such as closing streets to cars after 6.30pm to make way for food and drink spaces. outdoor entertainment, the opening of a 24-hour food market and the construction of skate ramps in disused parking lots to attract youngsters.

He also proposed that museums, theaters and other cultural institutions receive subsidies to stay open later at night. Other proposals include subsidizing childcare, widening pathways and converting underused spaces such as rooftops and driveways into community gardens and performance spaces.

“Sydney’s CBD is the world leader, but it is in a period of evolution as the world changes,” the report said. “The goal is to provide spaces where people can come together to share experiences and build community.”

In an introduction to the report, the Minister for Trade wrote: “It is about transforming Sydney’s CBD from a nine-to-five workplace into a 24-hour global playground for innovation, entertainment and culture, and to stimulate new opportunities to attract investment and global talent.”

The state government has already launched a series of measures to try to entice people back to the city. These include a ‘Thank God It’s Friday’ scheme announced last year which offered to give residents vouchers worth 100 Australian dollars (96 Singapore dollars) to spend on dining and entertainment in the city on Friday.

The City of Sydney and the state government have also tried to promote outdoor dining and facilitate the establishment of pathway and lane areas by cafes and restaurants.

The state government held a summit on Friday (February 11) to explore ways to restart the city and increase foot traffic. According to Sydney’s Daily Telegraph newspaper, the summit was told that public transport use in central Sydney had fallen 65% below pre-pandemic levels.

Sydney Lord Mayor Ms Clover Moore reportedly told the summit that train and light rail journeys in the city center should be free and called for additional city blocks to be vehicle-free.

“We must seize this moment with energy not only to help the city center recover, but to thrive again,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald.

State Premier Dominic Perrottet reportedly said in his speech at the summit: ‘What is the long term plan for our city? There shouldn’t be any tumbleweed coming down Martin Place (CBD pedestrian mall) the weekend.”

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